How to Improve Your Healthcare Data Security

Healthcare Data Security

Healthcare data security has never been more important with the spike in phishing attacks targeting healthcare organizations. HIPAA requires you to implement a robust cybersecurity program to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information (PHI). To provide guidance on how to do this, improving your healthcare data security is discussed below.

Healthcare Data Security: How to Start

To improve your healthcare data security, first you must identify where your deficiencies lie. To do so, you must conduct a security risk assessment. A security risk assessment is a requirement enforced by HIPAA, that analyzes your current security tools against HIPAA standards. As a healthcare organization you must complete your security risk assessment annually to ensure that any changes to your business practices are accounted for. 

Once you have completed your security risk assessment, gaps in your security measures are identified. This allows you to create remediation plans to address your deficiencies, bringing your security measures up to HIPAA standards.

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Key Components of Healthcare Data Security

In 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released guidance for how organizations can improve their healthcare data security. This was meant to provide a framework that healthcare organizations can use to ensure their PHI is secure.

Organizations working with PHI should implement the following cybersecurity practices:

  1. Risk management
  2. Configuration management
  3. Vulnerability management
  4. Access management
  5. Asset management
  6. Audit logging and monitoring
  7. Incident management and response
  8. Disaster recovery and business continuity
  9. Network protection
  10. Endpoint protection and detection
  11. Data protection tools/technology
  12. Third-party assurance
  13. Password management
  14. Wireless protection and detection
  15. Transmission protection
  16. Mobile device management
  17. Physical and environmental security
  18. Employee training and awareness

Implementing all of the recommended cybersecurity practices can be difficult if you don’t have a dedicated IT staff. Organizations that do have an IT staff should appoint a chief information security officer (CISO). Small to mid sized organizations may not be able to hire a CISO due to budget constraints, and as such should consult a managed security service provider (MSSP) to implement the recommended cybersecurity practices.

How to Instill a Culture of Healthcare Data Security

Now that you are aware of what you need to implement, we will discuss how you can implement the cybersecurity recommendations.

Control Access to PHI

A key component of healthcare data security is controlling who has access to your data. HIPAA requires you to implement access management in line with the minimum necessary standard. This standard mandates that employees and business associates should only have access to the PHI that they require to perform their job functions.

To implement access management, each employee must have unique login credentials to access PHI. This enables you to provide different access levels to data based on the employee’s job role. 

Track Access to Data

To ensure adherence to the minimum necessary standard, and to enable breach detection, you must track data access. Keeping an audit log allows you to establish regular PHI access patterns for each employee. This is the key to detecting both external and internal breaches – when data is being accessed outside the norm.

Train Employees

You can’t expect employees to adhere to HIPAA standards if they are not aware of what they are. This is why employees must be trained annually on HIPAA basics, cybersecurity best practices, and your organization’s policies and procedures. Employee training must be documented, and employees should have a means of communicating when they do not understand the training material.

Implement Encryption

Encryption converts sensitive data into a code that can only be read with a decryption key. This prevents unauthorized users from viewing the data, making encryption an important part of healthcare data security. End-to end encryption is the most secure method of protecting data, as it protects data at rest (data being stored on your network) and data in transit (data being sent to an external entity).

Secure Mobile Devices

When allowing employees to connect to your network with their personal mobile devices, or company issued mobile devices, you must ensure that the mobile device is secure. This requires several measures to be implemented, including:

  • Managing all devices, settings, and configurations
  • Requiring the use of strong passwords
  • Enabling the remote wipe and lock features so that data on lost or stolen devices cannot be accessed by unauthorized users
  • Encrypting application data
  • Monitoring email accounts and attachments
  • Training employees on mobile device cybersecurity best practices
  • Implementing guidelines or whitelisting policies to prevent risky apps from being installed on devices
  • Requiring employees to keep their device’s software updated
  • Requiring security software to be installed on mobile devices

Manage Devices Connected to Your Network

Mobile devices, laptops, and tablets are not the only devices that connect to a healthcare organization’s network. There are several medical devices that also require internet access. To prevent these devices from risking your healthcare data security, you should:

  • Connect medical devices to their own separate network
  • Monitor device networks with audit logs
  • Disable non-essential services on devices before using them
  • Implement multi-factor authentication
  • Install software patches to keep all devices up-to-date

Backup Data

Your PHI data, as well as your business critical data, should always be backed up at an offsite location. Offsite data backup prevents you from losing all of your data if you are hacked, or are the victim of a natural disaster. Organizations that fail to implement offsite data backup, and experience a breach or natural disaster, often spend thousands, or in some cases, millions of dollars to recover their lost data.

Business Associate Management

Business associate management requires you to vet the vendors that create, receive, transmit, store, or maintain PHI on your behalf. This is an important part of healthcare data security as hackers have begun to target business associates for their healthcare clients’ data. Your business associates must adhere to the same HIPAA standards as you do. To ensure that they do so, you must send them a vendor questionnaire to assess their safeguards, and you must have signed business associate agreements with them before sharing PHI with them.

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